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For Your Own Good, Read Widely
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For Your Own Good, Read Widely

If your media consumption is a steady diet of one-sided partisan news, you may start inventing catastrophes where there are none.

Hi,

Here’s a small life hack: If you’re a right-winger, you should read more left-wing stuff, particularly if you currently don’t read any at all. And, if you’re a left-winger, vice versa.

I used to read a lot of left-wing stuff. Indeed, for years I probably read more left-wing stuff than right-wing, and I think it made me a better conservative. Sometimes, you might say I was “monitoring enemy communiques,” and other times I was just reading interesting things I disagreed with.

There are a bunch of reasons you should read outside your comfort zone. 

Of course, in my line of work, a certain amount of it is simply due diligence.

But even for the regular intellectually or politically engaged citizen, it’s a good idea.

Pat Moynihan was right when he said everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. But what that aphorism leaves out is that different groups can pay attention to different sets of facts. It’s not necessarily that one group has a “different truth” than another group (though that certainly happens)—it’s that each group emphasizes, includes, or excludes different information. Reading widely can simply help you discover facts that get lost in the narratives of your own side.

Also, if the writer is both good and honest (some writers are good, but not honest), they can also help you understand that the other side has decent people who simply disagree with you in good faith.

But there’s also another reason: It’s a great way to discover that nobody thinks they’re winning.

I’ve made this point a few times, but one of the most amazing things about the culture war is how so many of its combatants are convinced their side is losing in a rout.

If lefties read more right-wing stuff, they’d learn that there are a lot of people out there who believe that the left has been blitzkrieging across the cultural landscape unopposed for decades.  

And if righties read more lefties they’d discover that a lot of left-wingers write as if they are desperate chroniclers of an extinction-level event. They sometimes sound like they’re filing their final dispatch in a subterranean bunker as the world-conquering right-wing Terminators of the surface world pound the rubble daily, forcing the rag tag remnant of socialism to live underground, the light from their laptops illuminating the plaster-dust in the air as they bang at the keyboard to give hope to the resistance.

Why is this important? Because the constant catastrophization of our politics is in and of itself a catastrophe. If you think you’re facing an existential threat, things like decency, decorum, debate, deliberation, and other good things that begin with “D”—including democracy—don’t matter very much. (No one ever responded to a charging grizzly bear by invoking Robert’s Rules of Order.)

More importantly, if every “side” thinks it’s losing, odds are pretty good that none of them are actually winning as much as you’d imagine.

If you think everything is going horribly for your “side,” that’s fine—though you’re probably wrong (unless you’re an anarcho-capitalist, Babeufian communist, Baal worshipper, or Shaker). Politics isn’t zero sum. Your team’s loss—real or perceived—is not necessarily another side’s victory. And even in the cases where it is zero sum, few victories are permanent.

Beware the cold steel of the centrists.

But there’s another reason to read this stuff. Sometimes it’s just good for a laugh.

I don’t mean to be unfair to Grace Blakeley. I’m not familiar with her work, and for all I know there’s a lot more merit to her case than I can see from my vantage point.

But let’s just start with the headline of her Jacobin piece: “The Extreme Center Is Waging War on the Left.”

Before anything else, I just like the way this kind blows up the metaphor that dominates our understanding of the left-right ideological spectrum.

This is an old obsession of mine we don’t need to spend a lot of time on. That America and the U.K. should use the categories of a French seating chart has always vexed me.

But that’s an argument for another day. We tend to think of left-right as a line (and sometimes a circle) and I don’t think we’re going to get out from under this understanding anytime soon. Why (to use an ideologically coded language not my own) the left would want to stay trapped in this hegemonic orthodoxy, which rises out of an Enlightenment-based discourse centered on abstract bourgeoise “rights” and a modality of deliberation that privileged cis-heteronormative voices along an axis of primitive social justice to primordial theological fascism, is beyond me. But hey, if you’re gonna call your magazine Jacobin, you gotta commit to the bit.

Besides, I like this “extreme center” thing. Oh, look at it. It’s so central, just sitting there at the imaginary midpoint between two other imaginary midpoints. It’s not just in the middle, it’s extremely in the middle. It’s not quite an oxymoron like radical moderation. It’s more like Maximum Parking. That car isn’t just not moving, it’s not moving extremely.  

Of course, that’s not how Blakeley means it. She thinks that centrism is on the move, and that it’s coming for her: On a post-election conference call in the United States, former CIA agent and current Rep. Abigail Spanberger even demanded that the Democrats never say the word “socialism” ever again.

My God.

Anyway, back to my point. If you’re a conservative, particularly one who listens to talk radio Jeremiahs telling you that the socialists are coming for you, this should be great news. I don’t mean it’s great news if it’s true (I’m a bit skeptical). I mean it’s great news simply that the socialists believe this.

If you listened to some of the loudest voices on the right, you’d think Joe Biden is either a Marxist or a tool of the Marxists. Moderate Democrats are a myth, because they’re either would-be Stalins under the surface, or they are puppets of the Stalinists who really control everything.

But if you just click over to a left-wing site, you’d discover not only are they not Stalinists, but that from where they sit Joe Biden represents a vicious, take-no-prisoners, anti-socialist Cromwell. According to Blakeley, the extreme centrists, “don’t care about facts, they don’t care about accountability, and they don’t care about democracy. They only care about one thing: beating the Left into oblivion.”

That sound familiar? It does to me. It sounds like precisely what the Flight 93 hysterics say about the socialists.

And here’s the kicker. Blakeley writes, “Socialists could learn a thing or two from this attitude.” Socialists, you see, are babes in the woods, naïve political ingénues lacking the ruthlessness of the centrists. They need to toughen up. They need to fight the way the other side does. The socialists need to be as ruthless and cunning as people like … Abigail Spanberger.

I have so many responses to this, starting with what movie have these people been watching? Looking back over the last decade, I just don’t see an era of centrist Democrats—extreme or otherwise—waging war on the socialists. The old DLC Democrats were largely routed by the netroots types and Barack Obama, in much the same way the Rockefeller and Boehner Republicans were routed by Tea Partiers and Trumpists. Indeed, one reason socialists made so much headway in the Democratic party is that the Democratic party refused to draw any lines between itself and the self-described socialists. Does no one remember that in 2016 then-DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz refused to say there was any difference between a liberal and a socialist, like a kazillion times? I might also note that the alleged Lavrentiy Beria of extreme centrism, Abigail Spanberger, votes with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 87 percent of the time.

But I’ll leave it here: The world is more complex—and in many ways, much better—than the tales of woe many of us are wallowing in.

Photograph by Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images.

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.